On Translation Errors

by Ricardo Souza

I remember this pretty ugly translation slip. It happened in the translation of Noah Gordon's “The Physician.” The book was translated into Brazilian Portuguese by Aulyde Soares Rodrigues and became known as... “O físico”!

Well, we all know that the correct solution for the title would have been O médico, that is, "The doctor," don't we? Not quite. Not only the title translation is correct, it's also a precious one.

Back when the book came out, Aulyde became a punching back. She was called incompetent and callow (these were the exact words,) among other not-so-nice words, by her fellow translators, the same professionals who should have given their peer the benefit of the doubt and investigated the term more deeply.

Had they done so, they wouldn't have felt ashamed of themselves upon realizing that "físico" is exactly how doctors were known back in the Middle Ages, when the book is set. Here, the translation slip wasn't committed by the translator who translated the book, but by those who criticized it.

Wouldn't it be so nice if we checked the origins of an "error" before saying anything or pointing fingers to criticize someone? Unfortunately, founded and cautious criticism, or those that raise healthy questions―the same kind that make us better professionals and people in general―are really hard to come buy and have been replaced by "guesses" from people who keep "guessing" things around and believe their "guestimates" are truth revealed.


RICARDO SOUZA has a Bachelor's Degree in Portuguese Language and Literature with Fluminense Federal University and has been a full-time English-to-Portuguese translator since 2000. He specializes in Maritime translations―a field in which he had worked for 15 years, including translation and interpreting tasks―as well as Transportation and Freight Logistics, Foreign Trade, Offshore, and Heavy Machinery. He has given many lectures on the translation market, tools and techniques. Since 2007, he has been working as a field interpreter in industrial facilities located within and outside Rio de Janeiro, where he lives.